USS ESSEX, At Sea - The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are preparing to provide humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) support to Japan, as directed, after the country was hit by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami March 11.
ARG ships are capable of carrying out a variety of HADR operations using helicopters assigned to the 31st MEU and the Navy's Helicopter Sea Control Squadron 25 or amphibious craft assigned to Beach Master Unit 1 and Assault Craft Unit 1.
"We train for HADR missions, and with everything from excess water-producing capacity to expanded hospital beds, the ARG-MEU team is well-positioned to handle all the immediate needs of most humanitarian crises," said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11. "We excel at survey operations and distributing food, water and materials. Our air and surface capabilities truly enable us to reach just about anywhere."
The Essex ARG is comprised of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the dock landing ships USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46). Each ship can provide fresh water, medical contingency support, search and rescue support, heavy lift capabilities and amphibious crafts.
"Our biggest advantage is the heavy lift capabilities our CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters provide," said Senior Chief Operations Specialist (SW/AW) Clifford Hanna. "With them, we can transport more personnel and supplies ashore."
Hanna said the MEU can use the Super Stallions and CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters, assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262, to move more than 260,000 pounds and transport as many as 860 passengers per day.
The ARG can also use amphibious craft to transport Marines and supplies to the beach, as well as any victims back to the ship. Landing craft, air cushions can carry up to 23 people, while landing craft utilities can carry as many as 400.
In times of crises, the Essex Medical Department has the capability to expand to a 600-bed hospital with a 14-bed intensive care unit and 46-bed inpatient ward, the largest at-sea medical capacity of any U.S. Navy ship with the exception of hospital ships. The ship's medical facilities also contain six operating rooms, three triage stations, X-ray facilities, a blood bank and a laboratory.
The 31st MEU is also capable of providing 45,000 meals ready to eat, fresh water and bilingual personnel to assist in communication between U.S. service members and Japanese citizens.
"The ARG is ready and willing to help in any way that we are directed to help," said Lee. "The Sailors and Marines are true professionals who, I am sure, will make our Navy, our Marine Corps and the American people proud."
Essex is headed off the coast of Japan to conduct HADR operations, as directed, in support of Operation Tomodachi.